2007 MLS Cup - Houston vs. New England - Preview and prediction time
RFK Stadium, Washington, DC
Sunday - Noon ET/9am PT
TV: ABC, TeleFutura
For the third straight year the New England Revolution come into the MLS Cup after winning their conference championship 1-0 while Houston, for the second year in a row, will be without Ricardo Clark in the final due to suspension.
So how many times will we hear little facts like that during Sunday's broadcast? I'm guessing the ABC crew will have a number of them. But anyway, what about the game?
New England must feel good about this one. So far they have not allowed a single post-season goal, they've had three extra days of rest, one of Houston's biggest stars is injured and the team's owners are bussing in fans. All this seems to point to a good day for the Revs. However, there is a big area of concern, their offense.
The Revs have yet to find any sort of scoring touch as both their playoff goals have come under odd circumstances. The goal against New York happened when the Red Bulls were playing down a man (Arena had yet to sub out Angel) and Twellman's bicycle kick goal against Chicago was beautiful but should not have been allowed (dangerous play). Add to it Houston's defense and you have the makings of a drought.
Meanwhile, the team from Texas has been sure footed in front of goal. Six goals in their last two playoff games is something, but the numbers that really stand out to me are the eight players who have multiple goals this season and the five guys who have found net in the playoffs. Houston will be without a big part of their offense if Ching is out, but they still have a number of options available, while Taylor Twellman has been the only scare factor in NE's bag.
Where Houston will take the biggest hit with Ching out is in the air. Last year, teams where terrified of giving up corners or free kicks in the final third because Ching and, to a lesser degree, Dalglish were able to get on the end of those things. However, this season, Houston has done little with their chances, due in large part to Ching's various injuries.
Ching also forces the defense to pull over to cover him, thus opening up space for others, however, this might not be as big of a lose as it seems. Since Nate Jaqua has some good speed, the Revs backline might hold a few yards closer to goal then they would with Ching, thus opening up more space for De Rosario, Ngwenya and others in the middle and the midfield is where Houston has been getting it done.
But I have a feeling Shalrie Joseph, Jeff Larentowicz, Steve Ralston and Khano Smith (not to mention Michael Parkhurst) will have a few things to say about the Dynamo's plans for the center of the park. Ralston has been cranking up his game and providing for Noonan and Twellman while Larentowicz has become a bit of an enforcer. However, they have seemed more giveaway prone the last few weeks as balls either skate by or get picked off along their way plus Ralston's placement on corner kicks has not been the best.
So could this really come down to the defensive line and goalkeeper. If so, two different stories could come of it. Houston's backline has been near perfect, allowing 17 shots with only 6 on target while the Revs have allowed 44 with 20 on frame. Obviously Houston is the tighter team in the back. Wade Barrett knows how to control his line but a lot of these numbers are due to the whole team fighting the defensive battle. Players track back to give the team numbers (unlike Chicago who just sat back), thus keeping the pressure off of Onstad.
New England, on the other hand, leaves most of the defending to the defenders, which explains why more balls get through, however Matt Reis seems to like it this way. Reis made 120 saves this year while Onstad had 2/3rds as many. And Reis's season goals against average might not be as pretty as Onstad's, but during this playoff run, he has made 19 saves while Onstad has just 4. I'm sure both will come up with a couple big saves on Sunday, but from the looks of it, Reis is the proven option.
So how will this thing play out? Expect a lot of defense at the start with Houston trying to get their passing game organized while the Revs look for some quick through balls to Twellman. If Jaqua gets the start, he will try to run at the defense to keep them in their final third. My guess is the opening 20-minutes will see some flurry, but no goals.
Then it comes the pound out time. If the Revs can turn this into a slower paced game, they should be able to put the Dynamo to sleep. With the Revs only needed a couple quality chances to win this thing, Houston will need to stop the lapses, however if these game has pace, I've got to go Dynamo.
So much seems to point towards the Revs finally getting a MLS title, but I just don't think it is going to happen. Since the start of October, New England has not dominated any games and has lucked in the final thanks to the above-mentioned goals. Meanwhile, Houston has turned it up a number of notches and is producing just about everywhere. Ching out will hurt them, but they should still have enough to cover. It is going to be a difficult task beating Reis, but if Houston can exploit NE's defensive holes, they should get enough shots in to get past Matt.
Predictions: Me HD 2-0 NE, Wife HD 1-0 NE (in OT)